Donations to Ontario’s Political Parties: Earmarked for Favourable Results!

Ontario’s voters who follow the news are probably aware that “Working Families”, on its website, describes itself as; “a not-for-profit organization that has the support of more than 250,000 members (and growing) representing a cross-section of Ontarians that aims to support, promote and advocate the interests of working families.” Working Families is really not an organization with 250,000 members but is an organization backed by several unions with 11 of them identified on their “about us” webpage.  Perhaps those unions have that many members but to proclaim that it “has the support” of 250,000 is a big stretch in its claim.  If one remembers the 2011 election campaign the efforts expended by the “Working Families” coalition were considerable and estimates in the media indicated they spent upwards of $9 million on various media ads warning of the dangers of electing the Tim Hudak led PC Party. Their campaign and ads harkened back to the “Harris” days and the reputed devastation he and the PC party had caused for “working families”! The ads were in very close harmony with the Liberal Party’s message that reverberated in the prior two elections and was continually used by the Dalton McGuinty Liberal MPPs in the Ontario Legislature to put down their principal opposition party. That same chatter continues although the support that the “organization” gave to the Liberals back in 2011 seems to be shifting to the NDP perhaps as a direct result of Bill 115 which forced a contract on the teachers unions by the Liberals.

The shift in support may be a forerunner to what will happen in the upcoming by-elections that will be held in Dwight Duncan’s and Chris Bentley’s ridings. A look to the past to see exactly where the parties obtain their funding and an examination of donations to the three principal parties from certain sectors for the 2011 year is interesting and discloses some disturbing facts.

Party Donation rules in Ontario are generous as Elections Ontario discloses; “There are three types of eligible contributors: Individuals who are Ontario residents; Corporations carrying on business in Ontario that are not registered charities; and Labour councils and trade unions with bargaining rights for employees in Ontario” and the donation amounts are generous being;

“Eligible contributors can contribute up to $9,300 to a central party in any year and an additional $9,300 for each campaign period.

This open faced sandwich allows corporations with multiple subsidiaries to donate up to $9,300 for each subsidiary and for unions with multiple locals to do the same. If one examines the donations made by unions and corporations (see below definitions) in 2011 it is interesting to see the effects of those rules.

Looking at the contributions to the three largest “parties” in 2011 and to their respective “election campaigns” it is quickly established the Elections Ontario rules are utilized to their fullest. From research it was determined that the (identifiable) unions collectively donated (rounded to the nearest thousand) $1,730,000 to the three parties. Looking at the “green” (those [identifiable] who have received OPA renewable energy contracts) corporations and large corporate entities (those who benefit from major government contracts) one can determine they collectively donated $800,000 to the three major parties.

Looking further at the breakdown of “union” donations it is seen that the Liberal Party received $948,000 (55%) versus $695,000 (40%) for the NDP and $87,000 (5%) for the PC Party of their 2011 donations.

On the” corporate” side the Liberal Party received $466,000 (58%) versus $308,000 (39%) for the PC Party and the balance, $26.000 (3%), went to the NDP.

Collectively the Liberal Party received 56% of the union/green corporate donations, the NDP 28% and the PC Party 16%. So the question emerges; which party is beholden to either or both of these groups?

The Liberals and the NDP received over 125 donations from unions and their locals as should be obvious from the above total union donations. A couple of the more notable ones are the Ontario Elementary Catholic Teachers Association who donated over $78,000 to the Liberals and $79,000 to the NDP but only $2,000 to the PC Party. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation donated $75,000 to the Liberal Party, $44,000 to the NDP and $15,000 to the PC Party. The Liberal Party also received over $60,000 in donations from 11 of the Labourers International Union of North America locals as another example.

On the corporate side two major companies who have benefited from provincial government contracts worth billion of dollars hedge their bets by donating to both the Liberals and the PC parties. Aecon (Mattagami hydro is a $2.6 billion build) donated $25,000 to the Liberal Party and $41,000 to the PC Party whereas Ellis Don (several hospital builds worth billions plus court houses, etc.) donated $74,000 to the Liberal Party and $59,000 to the PC Party. Needless to say the NDP received no donations from either of these major contractors but probably benefited from the unionized trades that both of these corporate entities employ on these government contracts.

What the foregoing demonstrates is that the Elections Finances Act needs an overhaul to prevent this influence peddling. Elections Ontario in their 2010/2011 Annual Report recommended “that an independent task force be established to investigate options regarding how to improve third party advertising rules in Ontario.” Elections Ontario in their report to the Legislature suggested that the review consider the following.

1. Should Ontario adopt third party spending limits?
2.Should Ontario adopt third party contribution limits?
3. Should Ontario try to limit third party advertising spending to the amounts it raises prior to and during an election?

To the best of this writer’s knowledge nothing has been done to curb this electoral abuse and one would hope that the next session of the Legislature gives the Elections Ontario recommendations a priority and establish a task force.

Evidence of how the tap is turned on or off can be found in the recent Liberal leadership conference. As most of the candidates running for the leadership bid found out the well from the various teachers unions had run dry. Ms Wynn received donations of a paltry $28,000 from 12 unions (none from the education sector) whereas she received $25,000 from the Insurance Bureau of Canada alone and $22,000 from the “green” developers. No doubt the Insurance Bureau contribution influenced her response to the Leader of the NDP, Andrea Horwath when she proposed a 15% cut in auto insurance premiums.

The time has come to take the influence peddling out of the party donations pot and place it squarely with the Lobbyist Registry where it will at least be somewhat transparent!

Parker Gallant,
February 11, 2013

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